One family’s breadwinner lost his job and applying for assistance did not go smoothly in one scenario in a poverty simulation exercise on Thursday.
Euwanda Jennings, University of Nebraska Extension educator for Douglas-Sarpy counties, conducted the simulation with local volunteers to demonstrate how families in poverty face mountains each day just to meet their basic needs.
The event was hosted by Families First Partnership and Mid-Plains Community College, where the simulation was conducted.
The purpose of the interactive simulation was to introduce community members and leaders to the difficulties some families face every day. The volunteers participated as simulated families who were given various scenarios to resolve in a certain time frame. Food, utilities, housing, mortgage payments and other basic needs were used to demonstrate the process real families go through in order to survive.
“I will expose you to the different challenges that individuals living in low-income and poverty situations today face,” Jennings said. “Then we will explore some solutions to this epidemic.”
Sam Golson, coordinator at Supportive Services for Veteran Families, said he understood the situations presented to his group.
“I grew up actually really poor, but I’ve never done one of these scenarios before,” Golson said. “It brought back memories of the struggle. It’s the fact that no matter how much as you think everybody’s on your side, you’re really on your own. You’ve got to figure it out.”
In Golson’s family scenario, several issues had to be resolved.
“I had a car that didn’t run, I had a job that barely paid me anything, my girlfriend had a 1-year-old, no father in the picture, no child support, we were on EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) and we couldn’t get into the EBT office,” Golson said. “My car’s title was pawned, so I was losing my car, and the pawn shop wouldn’t take my stuff.”
He said in his scenario, they went two weeks without getting a paycheck because they couldn’t get to the bank in time with their allotted bus passes.
Jennifer Havlovick with Guardian Light Family Services in North Platte played the role of a pawn broker.
“This was a great opportunity to recognize your own hidden beliefs regarding individuals in poverty,” Havlovick said. “Emotions in the room from the participants being challenged by barriers (came out) and you can see that it brought up frustration for some and hopelessness for others in the participants.”
This was Havlovick’s second time going through the simulation.
“So it was interesting how the empathy I feel on a day-to-day basis because of the work I do easily can become jaded and hardened when people come to your door wanting more and more,” Havlovick said. “As providers, I think it’s important that we’re checking our emotions on a regular basis and keeping that empathy open.”
Melissa Robinson said she experienced frustration.
“I think it was really frustrating because I knew the resources that were out there,” Robinson said. “We had money to pay our mortgage, but the line was so long that the time ran out, so we were evicted while we were standing in line.”
Planning week to week is just something she said she was not used to, so in hindsight, she would do it differently.
“Once you get behind, you just can’t get out of the hole,” Robinson said. “It kind of made it realistic of what people go through, but I think that it’s so hard to be totally in the shoes of someone in poverty when you haven’t grown up in poverty because your mindset is different.”
Jennings asked the group to stay in character as they worked their way through the exercise.
“I want you to remember throughout this whole day that poverty is not a game,” Jennings said. “It’s not a game for the 39.7 million U.S. citizens whose lifestyle you will assume today.
“Last year 220,000 Nebraskans reported income under the poverty level,” Jennings added. “Poverty is multidimensional and there are so many reasons that poverty exists,” including food, poor housing, unemployment, chronic health conditions and psychological distress.
Along with the volunteers who represented families living in poverty, volunteers represented agencies such as food banks, check cashing businesses, banks, health care workers and law enforcement.